Choosing Ecommere Software
There are really 4 main categories of ecommerce software:
Commercial-Off-the-Shelf (COTS), all-inclusive, usually web only. Typically for smaller businesses that want to handle most everything directly through an administrative side of their website. This includes product management, order management, promo codes, on-site marketing, etc. Of course, there are many COTS products on the market, many of support larger businesses & product catalogs, can be integrated with existing back-end systems (product, inventory, order, fulfillment, accounting, shipping, etc.). The key differentiator here is that a lot of the product and order management occurs through administrative functions tied directly into the website. However, these systems generally have a lot of features that are never used, have limitations to the design layer, require regular upgrades to the base software as well as integrations to 3rd party functions (shipping, taxation, site search, payment gateways, etc.). Customization will be required to compete effectively online. Consequently, whenever a new version of the software is released, it can be painful to implement it around existing custom code. Don't get caught up in licensing costs, because the real expense is in the labor required for installation, customization and maintenance (both short- and long-term).
Enterprise. Larger companies, particularly those with either a large volume of daily orders or a large product catalog, will invest in an enterprise solution that comes with all the features and capabilities tightly developed and integrated with a single platform. Of course, these are typically significantly more expensive, not just for the software, but to migrate your other business functions away from existing platforms into a centralized, enterprise platform. Your business rules may have to bend a little to "fit" the technological capabilities, unless you elect to customize. For the most part, this is also a COTS solution as well, but more sophisticated and integrated. Many common enterprise solutions have the capability to extend to the web (if they haven't already). But to move to one is quite an undertaking.
Custom-built. Albeit rare these days, ecommerce systems can still be built from scratch. Typically anything custom-built starts with some existing foundation, but the difference is it's "home grown" and is not tied to a COTS product. It's developed solely for your business needs to match your business rules. Your development staff must be experienced and aware of ecommerce best practices. Keep in mind that, over time, custom-built software becomes more and more dependent on the the development staff that "knows" how it works. Your technology choices are critical as well, not just to support the online customer demand, but also in terms of long-term support. Good planning and documentation are critical to the success of custom-built systems.
Framework. This is Beacon's solution via our BeCommerce product, which was developed to function as a web layer or framework over the top of your existing backoffice systems. The ecommerce framework is wrapped by Cascade CMS, an industrial-strength, SEO-friendly, content management system that provides the marketing flexibility around your online product catalog to effectively compete on the web. The BeCommerce framework "plugs" into your product/inventory/order databases, while utilizing industry leading products to support site search, product reviews, live chat, product recommendations, shipping, taxation, payment gateway and much more. Yes, customization is necessary, but you have the ability to leverage a tried and true framework, while having the flexibility to make your website standout from a marketing perspective. It gives you the ability to incorporate your current business rules into the framework. Most of the customization (and cost) is tied to the extent of your design, the marketing content and in connecting to your existing systems.